Belief Systems, Science, Evolution, Critical Thinking, and the Bible

Howdy, everybody;

I think everyone can agree that any rational belief system must be based insofar as possible on verifiable fact, although possibly not limited to it. If you have a belief system that actually contradicts the truth, you are in serious trouble. In fact, this is the primary yardstick used to measure insanity.

Of course, having a belief system that is based on truth does not guarantee your safety (or popularity) if the majority of people around you do not share your beliefs. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, by the church, for his belief that the earth revolves around the sun once a year. His viewpoint was dismissed out of hand by the religious leaders of his time, because they did not bother to examine the facts on which his belief was based. Had they done so, and worked out a solution as the modern day church has done, our science would probably be several hundred years advanced at this point. Of course we know now by direct observation that Bruno (as well as earlier astronomers) was correct.

My point here is that the truth, or verifiable fact, is the best tool available for exploring the universe around you and trying to understand it. Science is a system for discovering the truth (fact) with high confidence. The standard procedure in science is: a hypothesis is made; experiments are made to test the hypothesis; if verified, it becomes a theory; if disproved, it is discarded.

A lot of people throw around the word “Theory” without knowing the precise definition. In this article I use the word “theory” in it’s precise definition as related to science. Sadly, most of the public, much of the media, and even some “scientists” do not use it correctly. In common (inprecise) use, the word theory is used as a synonym for hypothesis. Not in this article. The reason I am stressing this is that most people do not realize how much testing goes in to a hypothesis before it becomes a theory.

Any scientific theory has passed every test, and every attempt to disprove it has failed. A theory has a lot going for it: it has been subject to sustained efforts to prove it is wrong – and those efforts have failed. That doesn’t guarantee it is absolute truth, because it may be disproved later by new information or tests; but at the moment, it is the truth as understood by science. A theory is NOT just an opinion expressed by a scientist. A theory has stood in the face of every test anyone has conceived to apply to it, without fail. In common use, people say theory when they mean hypothesis – but in the world of science, theory means a concept that has been tested and found to be true for all known cases.

Those tests mentioned above are why you sometimes hear about a theory being changed. Sometimes, new information makes some part of a theory invalid, but a change or two is made and it becomes valid again. At this point, the theory goes back through the testing phase just as when it was a hypothesis. So science is a dynamic process which is self correcting and always changing based on new knowledge.

As it happens, I am a Christian. I am also strongly science oriented. And I do not believe that it is possible that there is any conflict between observed reality and the Bible. If there is, either my facts are wrong, or I have misinterpreted the Bible. I have yet to find any observable, provable fact which actually contradicts the Bible. It’s true that there are many things in the Bible which cannot be proved (or disproved) by science. That’s OK. That’s where the faith part comes in. But nothing I have seen in my studies has invalidated the Bible. If you think about it, that is a very strong statement for the truth of the Bible. But by the same token, bear in mind that the Bible is very much subject to interpretation – as is science.

It is necessary to reconcile observed reality and religious beliefs. Let’s face it – something’s got to give. If you know something is true for a fact, and you believe something that conflicts with the fact, the belief has to be adjusted or discarded. Any other solution is not rational.

Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (evolution) has been subject to attempts to disprove it for many, many years, and so far it has not been disproved. This theory says that species evolve over time by natural selection; that is, say, a mutation occurs in an individual. If it is a useful mutation, and benefits the individual, that individual may pass it on to any children; but if it is not a useful mutation, it causes the individual to tend not to survive long enough to reproduce. This process, over long periods of time, produces change within a species, and in fact can produce new species. Note that evolution is observable in everyday life – it is the process by which dogs and horses (and many other critters) are bred.

There is another way to look at evolution that is not so widely known. It is called Theistic Evolution. This is the idea that the theory of evolution is correct in it’s observable effects, but rather than random processes causing mutations and change, these things are directly controlled by God. Or alternatively, God set in motion the process of evolution because He knew it would produce the desired results. One of the interesting things about this is that the observable process is exactly the same as conventional evolution. To a dispassionate observer, the observed events of the process are identical.

This idea allows a person to reconcile this theory with a belief in God and the Bible. But since God wants our belief in Him to be based on faith, He set it up in such a way that the observable facts can be explained with Him or without Him – so each of us has to decide whether to believe in Him. This is the free choice aspect of Salvation in the Bible. Not only do you get to choose whether you want to be saved and have a personal relation with Jesus, but God set up the whole universe in such a way that you can’t have that decision taken away from you by obvious facts to turn you one way or the other.

The individual is free to choose either viewpoint. The Bible says that God made us. It certainly appears that this is the way He did it. If I’m wrong about that, I’m sure He will sort me out later.

There are many other areas similar to this in science and the Bible where there is apparent conflict until you look deeper. For instance, I am struck by the apparent similarities between cosmology (the Big Bang Theory) and the book of Genesis. Even the multi-verse brane hypothesis is pretty interesting in this context. But that would be the subject of another discussion.

So it appears I have gone to some trouble to reconcile my beliefs in Jesus and the Bible and the universe as understood by science. I don’t want to abandon either. Science is a valuable tool for understanding, which is very reliable; and my belief in Jesus is central to my happiness in this life (and the next one).

John 14:6 (NIV) says, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This shows that Jesus placed a very high premium on truth, so much so that He actually identifies Himself with it. Science is useful for discovering the universe around us, which was created by God and Jesus – this is a very valid, rational way to explore the universe.

We must be unflinching in our search for truth. It takes us where it takes us. But Jesus will be there, waiting for us, when we find Him. After all, He’s the Truth.

-Pop

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